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Can Resistance Training Slow Down The Progression Of Multiple Sclerosis?

Can Resistance Training Slow Down The Progression Of Multiple Sclerosis?

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  • Multiple sclerosis can be prevented with regular intensive physical exercise
  • About 40,000 - 50,000 people are estimated to be affected by multiple sclerosis
  • Resistance training improves their ability to walk, reduces fatigue, improves muscle strength and aerobic capacity

Multiple sclerosis patients are usually advised not to exercise for the fear of worsening the illness. However, it was found that resistance training can protect the nervous system and can also slow the progression of the disease, as physical training can relieve many of the symptoms such as, excessive fatigue and mobility impairments in people with multiple sclerosis, reveals a new study.

A research partnership between Aarhus University, Aarhus University Hospital, the University of Southern Denmark and the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, conducted the study and this was the main finding of the study. The study was published in the Multiple Sclerosis Journal.


Effects of Resistance Training on the Brain

Resistance training has a number of positive effects on the brain of multiple sclerosis patients. The effects of resistance training are enormous and goes beyond what can normally be achieved through disease specific medication.

Ulrik Dalgas, Associate Professor from the Department of Public Health at Aarhus University said that for more than six years, the team of researchers had an idea that physical training has effects on more than just the symptoms. This study is the first to indicate that physical activity can protect the nervous system against the disease.

Over the past 15 years, it was believed that physical activity does not harm people with multiple sclerosis, but instead had positive effects. These effects improved their ability to walk, reduced levels of fatigue, improved muscle strength and aerobic capacity.

Earlier, these activities were considered to be deteriorating in patients with multiple sclerosis. But the fact that resistance training has protective effects on the brain in multiple sclerosis patients is a new and important knowledge, reveals Ulrik Dalgas.

Findings of this study

In this study, about 35 people with multiple sclerosis were observed by a team of researchers for a period of about six months. These participants were divided into two groups, where half of them were engaged in resistance training twice a week, while the other half were not involved in any systematic training, and continued to live their lives normally.

Before and after the six-month period, the participants had their brains scanned for MRI. The research team found that the tendency for the brain to shrink was much lesser in those patients who were under resistance training, when compared to those who didn't.

Ulrik Dalgas said: "Among persons with multiple sclerosis, the brain shrinks markedly faster than normal. Drugs can counter this development, but we saw a tendency that training further minimizes brain shrinkage in patients already receiving medication. In addition, we saw that several smaller brain areas actually started to grow in response to training." .

The research team is still unable to explain why and how physical training has a positive impact on the brain in multiple sclerosis patients and there is a need for much bigger and more in-depth study to help clarify this.

Further research can also provide improved treatment options. However, the aim is not to replace medication with physical training, says Ulrik Dalgas.

Ulrik Dalgas said: "Phasing out drugs in favour of training is not realistic. On the other hand, the study indicates that systematic physical training can be a far more important supplement during treatment than has so far been assumed. This aspect needs to be thoroughly explored."

The research team is not yet clear, if all multiple sclerosis patients benefit from this type of physical exercise, as the research has not yet been adequately tested in patients who were affected severely.

Therefore, it is necessary for patients with multiple sclerosis to first seek professional advice, rather than putting themselves through rigorous physical training regimes, says Ulrik Dalgas.

Facts About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis affects more than a million people worldwide, which is a life-long debilitating auto-immune disease that affects the nerves. Eighty percent of multiple sclerosis patients live with the disease for more than 35 years. In India, there are 40,000 - 50,000 people estimated to be affected by the disease. It frequently attacks young people usually in the age group of 20-40 years, and is more common among females than males. The cause of the illness is unknown, but both genetic and environmental factors play a role. It can cause financial, physical and emotional drain on the family of the patient for many years. It is not a killer disease and the patient has more or less a normal life span but gradually as the condition worsens, the patient is totally disabled and requires managed care. Reference

  1. Tue Kjølhede, et al. Can resistance training impact MRI outcomes in relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis? Multiple Sclerosis Journal (2017). DOI:10.1177/1352458517722645

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